08 April 2011

Governor McDonnell's Missed Opportunity

Virginia's Sons
by Henry Kidd

Governor McDonnell finally issued his Civil War History Month proclamation. The only thing missing is a smiley face. Well, not quite. Let's face it, the Governor has a difficult job. First of all, he's from Philly - not Virginian born and bred. Nothing wrong with that, just pointing that out for your consideration. (My Williams kin hail from New England.) He has had difficulty grasping the complexity of the competing perspectives of Virginia history. Secondly, the Governor faces an issue that has been increasingly politicized by both sides - we can argue all day as to why and who started it, blah, blah, blah.

As I've stated before, I had no major problem with the Governor's first 2010 proclamation. I had no major problem with his revised one. Were either perfect? No. But the whole issue has been overblown - mostly for politically correct reasons and feel good history. Each side of the issue, in my opinion, shares some of the guilt for this. 

But the problem with the 2011 proclamation is not so much for what it contains but, rather, for what it omits. Make no mistake about one thing - the wording for this proclamation was carefully calculated. The Governor mentions the "heroism of brave individuals like William Harvey Carney" who escaped from slavery and earned the Medal of Honor for his valor as a Union soldier. That's fine and is certainly part of our "Civil War" history and it deserves mentioning. But you will notice that the Governor was much more guarded in his mentioning of Confederate icons Lee and Jackson. These men are simply "still studied, analyzed and discussed today." Yeah, so are kumquats. The Governor's rather patronizing mention of Lee and Jackson did, in my opinion, more harm than good. I consider his treatment of these two important figures in a Civil War proclamation little more than a patronizing, back-handed compliment. Too bad - a wonderful opportunity missed.

The Governor did include a compliment (I think) for General Lee for what sounds like his dutiful submission as a misguided, vanquished rebel in supporting reconciliation after the war:  "that transition was aided by the actions of leaders like General Robert E. Lee who set the strong personal example of reconciliation and grace crucial in helping the people of Virginia return peacefully to the Union, instructing Virginians to '....abandon all these local animosities and make your sons Americans.'" Better than nothing I suppose.

But no words of praise for the bravery of those Virginians who defended hearth and home against what they saw as an invasion upon Virginia soil. Why not? Why couldn't the Governor have included some praise for these men and their sacrifices who answered the call of their state, left their loved ones, and defended the Commonwealth? Doing so, along with highlighting Union soldiers and Virginians like William Harvey Carney, would truly have resulted in a proclamation for all Virginians; rather than one to placate last year's critics. 

(In the Governor's defense, he did issue a worthy Lee-Jackson Day proclamation this year.)


Lindsay Horne said...

Richard, I could not agree more with your analysis...When I posted it to my blog, I too noticed that mention of Lee was worded so that his role DURING the war was minimal, which in my humble opinion deserves more praise than his role after. Lee was a patriot and a hero to Virginians in his day, and it would be shameful to forget that and not honor him the same way today.

Yes, he was interested in preserving the Union, but his loyalty (which seems to be in short supply today) to his state was paramount in his decision to command the Army of Northern Virginia, and for that Virginians should celebrate him.

To me the governor's proclamation was reminiscent of the Standards of Learning...lots of politically correct plugs throughout which don't add much value to learning.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Good comment Lindsay - thanks. There was a great opportunity to at least attempt to bring some unity over this issue, show an independent spirit, and highlight our history. He failed miserably.

I'm sure all the academic critics are, however, quite jubilant over THIS omission.

The Warrior said...

Yeah, so are kumquats.


Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Reminds me of something Josey Wales would say and then spit. ;o)

McDonnell is no Josey Wales.